Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Ramblings of a Retired Mind

In the inimitable war novel Catch-22 – there is a character called “Major Major Major Major”

(For brevity – let’s call him “Major Major”)

“Major Major” is a simple unassuming amiable officer who is liked by everyone – officers and enlisted men.  

One day – the Squadron Commander Major Duluth is killed in action – and – “Major Major” is appointed the Squadron Commander.

Suddenly – everything changes for “Major Major”.

The very same people who earlier loved “Major Major” – now – their attitude towards “Major Major” changes – and – everyone starts resenting his success

Many of his fellow officers have feelings of envy and animosity towards “Major Major” once he is promoted to Squadron Commander.

The most acrimonious and spiteful of them is Captain Black who believes that he himself was the logical choice to replace Major Duluth as Squadron Commander – and – grave injustice has been done by appointing “Major Major” as Squadron Commander.

Captain Black makes every effort to discredit and disparage “Major Major”

Captain Black uses various stratagems to sabotage and humiliate “Major Major” – and – cut him down to size.

This is an example of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

Thanks to his “success” – “Major Major” is a victim of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” – which results in hostility towards successful people.  

The “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is a culture where “successful” people are resented, attacked, cut down or criticized because of their success.

(Successful People are called “Tall Poppies” – and – cutting them down to size is called “Tall Poppying”…)

In an organization – the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” can cause in destructive feelings in work-colleagues of the successful person – which can lead to resentment, hostility and “envy attacks” on the “successful” person.

The “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is visible in personal relationships too – in families, friend-circles and in society – where we often see a tendency to resent and disparage successful people due to envy.

In a nutshell – the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is hostility towards successful people and manifestations of that resentment.

There are many mythical stories about the origins of the term “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

In one such apocryphal story – a young son of a King conquers a new land.

The young son asks the King for advice on how to deal with the newly conquered kingdom.

The King – who is strolling in the garden in a grove of poppies – draws his sword – and – with his sword – the King strikes off the heads of the tallest poppies in the grove.

The King’s son gets the message – and he methodically proceeds to kill all the prominent men (the “tallest poppies”) in the newly conquered land.

Once the influential men are eliminated – the son is able to easily govern the conquered land.

The term “Tall Poppy Syndrome” may have been probably derived from this apocryphal story.

Another fable hints that the underlying premise of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is that the tallest plants be cut down to the same size of all the others (cutting down to size)

So – in today’s world – “Tall Poppying” successful persons – probably means – trying to “cut them down to size”.

Don’t we see examples of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” all around us…?

I saw plenty of instances of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” in the Defence Services – where career prospects are limited due to the pyramidal hierarchy structure – and – it is very difficult to get promoted to high rank – which results in a large number of deserving officers getting “superseded” or “passed over” for promotion.

Many “superseded” officers feel a sense of resentment and envy towards their successful course-mates and try to “Tall Poppy” them.

You will see plenty of examples of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” everywhere – in politics, in the corporate sector, in society, in families and personal life too.

The “Tall Poppy Syndrome” manifests at the societal level too.

One example is the cultural resentment against “migrants” who are more “successful” than the original inhabitants of a country.

Information Technology has been a catalyst in proliferation of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

Nowadays – the Social Media has become a ubiquitous medium for “Tall Poppying”

People can easily express their resentment against “successful” persons on the Social Media – and such online “Tall Poppying” of an individual on the Social Media can go “viral” very fast and have a devastating effect on the victim.

What is the root cause of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” …?

Is the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” a manifestation of “Crab Mentality” …?

(If I can’t have it – neither can you)

Or – is it an offshoot of “The Dog in the Manger” Syndrome …?

(People frequently begrudge something to others that they themselves cannot enjoy. Even if it does them no good – they won’t let others have it – like the mythical dog in fable – the dog in the manger who did not eat grain – but who nevertheless prevented the horse from eating the grain either)

Or – is it just basic human nature…?

Well – I really don’t know – but – I have been on both sides of the fence as far as the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” syndrome is concerned.

Dear Reader:

Have you experienced the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” – as a “victim” – or – as a “perpetrator”…?

Do tell us about it. 

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